If you watch how nature deals with adversity, continually renewing itself, you can't help but learn.
- Bernie Siegel, MD
After returning from a sunny holiday to my hometown of Munich, I noticed a crispness in the air I hadn’t felt when I left. April. You know what this means.. We are in this sweet time where we transition from winter into spring. In Ayurveda, we transition out of the winter cycle where the vata dosha dominates (the elements of air and ether) and into the spring cycle where kapha (earth and water) dominates instead. We see the elements of earth and water in the increased rainfall, the dew on the newly christened grass, and later the abundance of the earth quality in new leaves, bushes, flowers and the corresponding birds, insects and other little beings that come out to play in the warmer months. Nature makes this transition look easy and smooth, but us humans may struggle a bit as seasons shift, especially the shift from cold, heavy winter into crisp and light spring. By the time April rolls around, I usually feel kind of heavy, groggy, and a bit sluggish and often gained a kilo or two from being naturally less active in the winter months.
Our bodies simply need different things at different times of the year, and at different stages of our lives. Our motivation to care for our bodies is oftentimes higher as the weather warms, so it is a great time to look at which of our daily habits need to get the boot so we can create space for something better. Spring is a powerful time.. -- it is a time of new beginnings and transformation. Following some simple suggestions from Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, can help you attune to what is happening in nature right now and align your own daily rhythms to that.
First things first. Let’s get clear on the kapha dosha and how she can get out of balance. Of the three doshas—vata (air and ether), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (earth and water)—kapha is the heaviest. She has the elements of earth and water after all. Within our own bodies, it is kapha that gives us our earthy-watery qualities – it lubricates our joints, the sensitive tissues of the sinuses (in the form of mucous) as well as the lungs, and stomach. It also gives our body its density -- it determines the size and strength of our muscles. When kapha is in balance, you feel strong, and stable. When it's out of balance, you might feel lethargic, mentally dull, or depressed. Too much kapha can also show up as a lot of phlegm in the lungs or sinuses, gaining weight or retaining water, or a heavy feeling in the arms and legs. So if you feel this way late winter/early spring, you aren't alone! And there is a reason!
Keeping kapha balanced in the spring is especially important because kapha accumulates during winter and can lead to seasonal colds and allergies by the time spring arrives. In the cold and wet months of winter, most of us tend to eat more --particularly heavier foods like perhaps animal products, fried foods or sweets which increase mucous production and can build up in our lungs or sinuses. We may also be sleeping more, so we spend more time in bed, inert (a kapha quality) and less time moving outside (increasing kapha further). This can often lead to weight gain and a heavy feeling both mentally and physically.
That said, kapha sometimes gets a bad rap. Kapha isn't good or bad, it just is. We all have the kapha dosha in our constitutions in some proportion, but we want kapha (like the other doshas) in balance, so we can keep the stable and grounded feeling kapha brings.
How do we do that?
Start to lighten things up! In spring, you may find that you are naturally drawn towards lightness – you are drawn to more airy and watery foods and want to do outdoor activities to lighten up your body and brighten up your mind and mood.Knowing what to eat and what to avoid and what exercises can assist our natural desire to lighten up can allow us to seamlessly transition from winter to spring.
How to eat for the season
Many people find that they naturally want to lighten up their diets as warmer weather approaches – out with the heavy, dense pastas, animal products, potatoes and root vegetables and in with the salads, fruits, juices and smoothies and eating less food generally. If you tap in to your intuition, you can see you have a natural desire to tune your inner ecosystem to your outer. It’s pretty cool that the body has its own way of telling us it is time for a spring cleaning. I like to start the spring with a cleanse – anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on my toxic load. If that’s too structured for you, you can support your body’s natural desire to detox and renew by just changing your diet and following a few eating guidelines that come from Ayurveda.
In spring, it is best to eat more pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes – stick to warm and light foods that are relatively easy to digest. A kapha-reducing diet means eat lots of fresh vegetables, some fruits, and a variety of legumes -- these foods tend to be astringent and often somewhat bitter. Almost all vegetables work to reduce kapha with the exception of heavy or watery veggies like avocado, cucumber, olives, sweet potato, squash or zucchini.
Breakfast is not a big deal in Ayurveda. Our digestive fire is not that strong before 10am, so for breakfast think light --- a veggie juice or smoothie and a bit of porridge if you are still hungry. Make lunch your most important and nutrient-dense meal, loading up on bitter greens, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and spice it up the pungent flavor of onions, garlic, ginger, black pepper, chili pepper, and cayenne pepper. Keep dairy and animal products at a minimum, especially if you tend towards seasonal stuffiness and allergies. Oily, heavy or fried foods should also be tapered off. If you tend to overeat or snack between meals, try reducing the sweet, sour, and salty tastes in your diet – heavy or sour fruits like oranges, bananas, pineapples, figs, dates, coconuts, and melons are best kept to a minimum. Sipping warm water throughout the day can curb your desire to snack. You can add some lemon if you like. This can help to balance mucus production, regulate moisture levels, and open the channels of elimination we need for purification.
Luckily I love exercise, but even I get a little less inspired in the winter months. It’s a bit trickier to engage in some of our favorite sports in the winter which can mean either less time exercising or just less variety. There are so many more options when the weather gets warmer. If we want to balance kapha, here are a few suggestions..
Let's think about kapha.. it is heavy and dense. One might say, on the ground. So to balance kapha, we have to lift ourselves up from the ground. Whenever I feel a build up of stagnant kapha-like energy, I love to go for a run. I immediately feel lighter. Maybe for you, instead you prefer biking, swimming or jumping rope. Cardio is great in the spring time. The pelvis and legs represent the earthy-watery kapha part of the body and may be more prone to holding on to fat and water over the winter. Cardio can work these parts and move the excess heaviness up and out. In my yoga practice, I like to add in a lot more Utkatasana (chair), Malasana (squat) and Anjanayasana (crescent lunges) to work these spots.
Want to learn more? If you are like most people, you may find health and lifestyle shifts to be really hard to do. The momentum of our past habits can be really hard to break. I get it. That’s why I teach my 10 week Ayurveda and Habit Change course in groups. EVERY group I teach says the power of the group is key to making change in their own habits around diet, exercise, and self care. It’s just too hard to make lasting changes if everyone around us has gotten used to us as we are. We often need a new crowd to hang with, a new school of fish to swim with, that are moving in the direction we want to go to. If you want to lose weight, improve your diet, create a regular exercise and meditation routine that works for you and your lifestyle, my next course begins April 18 and its LIVE and ONLINE, which means if you live in another part of the world or have a travel or work schedule that makes it hard to meet in person, you can still change your health and your habits with a cool group of people, plus me leading the ship.